STAMFORD, Conn. — A program designed to support, sustain, and grow child care businesses in Connecticut — an industry devastated by the pandemic — has shown in its first two years to not only have affected economic growth and job creation in that industry, but has also yielded positive outcomes for many of the state’s child care providers. The program is accepting new grant applications between March 23 and April 12.
The program is funded through a cooperative agreement between the Women’s Business Development Council (WBDC) and the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood (OEC), and offers a comprehensive suite of no-cost business development services to help home and center-based providers launch, sustain, and grow their businesses. These services include group training, one-on-one advising, community connections, tools and resources, and notably, grants of up to $25,000 through the WBDC Child Care Business Opportunity Fund.
Over the last two years, the program has engaged more than 1,000 clients, awarded $2.54 million in grants, supported and maintained 4,430 child care slots, created and supported 3,330 jobs, and helped generate $37 million in revenue.
One Child Care Business Opportunity Fund grant recipient, Francheska Velazquez, transitioned from a home-based child care in 2017 to opening Play to Learn Childcare — a child care center in Stamford. She said WBDC’s support through educational resources, mentorship, and financial guidance was instrumental in her ability to grow the business. She’s been leaning on WBDC for support ever since.
“I first started this because I love working with kids — not because I knew the business part. But once you transition to a center, it’s a business,” Velazquez said. “When you first open, you’re not breaking even, you’re taking money from your personal account. WBDC opened up more doors.”
In 2020, Velazquez approached the challenges of operating a child care center amid the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity. “For me, the pandemic was a reset button. I was able to reinvest and put new technology — including a parent communication app — in place. It’s a mindset shift. I’ve really learned the difference between working in my business and working on my business. Now? I delegate. I train and I trust.”
She applied for — and was awarded — a $25,000 expansion grant through the Child Care Business Opportunity Fund. “Had I never made the effort to invest in myself for the greater good of my business, I never would have applied for the WBDC grant,” she said.
Using the funding from her expansion grant, Velazquez was able to expand to Play to Learn Childcare’s third location in Cheshire — which is now enrolling. Velazquez’s Stamford center now serves 60 children and employs 20 staff members. She also operates a child care center in Bridgeport.
Just announced, the most recent round of applications yielded 39 awarded grants to child care providers in 26 towns with a total distribution of $624,000. Of these grants, 59% went to minority-owned businesses and 44% went to child care businesses in distressed municipalities.
WBDC Founder and CEO Fran Pastore said she is tremendously proud of the program’s results to date and believes this program can be replicated in other areas of the country.
“We are so pleased to be part of this really unique partnership — I believe and hope this program can be used as a model for other states as they face similar challenges in the child care sector,” said Pastore. “It is truly amazing to see the direct impact these programs and services have had on many of our child care providers. Supporting our child care system achieves not only positive health outcomes for families, but also benefits our state’s economy as a whole.”
OEC Commissioner Beth Bye said the pandemic brought to light the need to build and support a stronger and more resilient child care system.
“The pandemic has highlighted the vulnerabilities of our child care system, but also has given us the opportunity to build a system with greater strength and resilience,” said Bye. “Supporting our child care providers is vital to develop and maintain the infrastructure that will allow early child care programs to survive and thrive for Connecticut’s children and families.”
The Opportunity Fund grants are designed to help licensed and aspiring child care businesses grow, and feature a wide range of grant programs that relate to the different stages of a child care business from start-ups to those ready to expand their business.
Grant programs offered through the opportunity fund:
- Start Up Grant Program: Offers one-time cash grants of up to $5,000 to help individuals in financial need become licensed and operating child care providers with the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood (OEC).
- Emergency Facilities Grant Program: Offers grants of up to $25,000 to qualified child care businesses suffering severe revenue shortages cover emergency facilities maintenance projects to keep their business open and operating safely.
- Expansion Grant Program: Offers grants of up to $25,000 to qualified child care businesses preparing to expand their businesses to grow their operations and create additional slots or revenue streams.
- Business Incentive Program: Offers licensed child care businesses in Connecticut a customized business development incentive program. Incentives include technology, cash grants, vouchers and more.
Virtual Information Sessions
WBDC is hosting a pair of information sessions to educate child care providers about the WBDC Child Care Business Opportunity Fund. These webinars are offered in English and Spanish and will also be recorded for later viewing.
- Wed., March 23; 6:00 p.m. — Info Session: Child Care Grants (bilingual)
- Thu., March 24; 1:00 p.m. — Info Session: Child Care Grants (bilingual)
Child Care Crisis Forum
On March 16th, Pastore and Bye were joined by Lt. Governor Susan Bysiewicz, Stamford Mayor Caroline Simmons and SBA Regional Administrator Mike Vlacich for an important conversation on the crisis in the child care industry affecting every state — including Connecticut. However, while many states have lost approximately 10% of their child care capacity, Connecticut has lost only one percent. WBDC hopes that the child care business support program can serve as a model for other states, federal and non-governmental organization collaboration.
About the Women’s Business Development Council
The Women’s Business Development Council’s (WBDC) mission is to support economic prosperity for women and strengthen communities through entrepreneurial and financial education services that create and grow sustainable jobs and businesses across Connecticut. WBDC educates, motivates and empowers women to achieve economic independence and self-sufficiency. Since 1997, WBDC has educated and trained more than 18,000 clients—helping women to launch and scale over 6,500 businesses; create, and maintain over 8,750 jobs in Connecticut; and access more than $24.9 million in capital. WBDC is the only agency in Connecticut reflective of the statewide demographic makeup offering comprehensive micro-enterprise training, with services ranging from financial education, entrepreneurial development, and access to capital programs. Visit ctwbdc.org for more information.
About the OEC
The Connecticut Office of Early Childhood (OEC) advances a two-generation family-centered approach in our pursuit of optimal health, safety and learning outcomes for young children. Through our core programs, we support infant and toddler care, preschool, after-school care, child care and youth camp licensing, home visiting, and early intervention to address developmental delays. The OEC is working toward better coordinated, cost-effective services that support Connecticut’s youngest children and families.